In poll position

Can Labour count on the social care vote, or is the profession
liable to put its collective cross in a different box? Community
Care’s survey of social care workers indicates some dissatisfaction
with Labour’s record but most still think social care will be safer
in their hands. Rachel Downey reports. 

Labour support has dropped dramatically among social care
workers since the last general election.

Our exclusive survey of social care staff shows that in just
four years, the percentage of workers voting for Labour has fallen
by more than a quarter. In 1997, 63 per cent voted Labour but only
45 per cent say they are going to do so this time round.

So where have the Labour supporters gone? Of those who voted
Labour in 1997, 5 per cent will vote Liberal Democrat this time
round and 2 per cent are backing the Green Party. But it is all to
play for as more than one quarter of the 1997 Labour voters are
undecided as to where to place their cross on the ballot paper.
Those aiming to vote tactically might only account for a fraction
of this total.

There are some clues why Labour has lost more than a quarter of
its support among social care staff.

Although the vast majority said they considered none of Labour’s
policies harmful to social care, a handful pointed the finger at
the government’s refusal to accept the Royal Commission’s
recommendation for free personal care for care home residents. One
in 10 of those who voted Labour in the last election said the
performance assessment framework was the most harmful of the
government’s social care policies. Just 4 per cent of the total
sample highlighted care trusts and the same percentage specified
the Mental Health Act review.

Another clue to the fall in support for Labour is that one fifth
of those who voted for the party in 1997 believe it is not
committed to social care. This belief is stronger among those staff
employed by local authorities.

Support for the Conservatives has all but disintegrated from 5
per cent in 1997 to just 1 per cent. The Liberal Democrats’ support
has remained stable at 8 per cent. However, almost one third of
those who voted in the 1997 election said they would consider
voting for the Liberal Democrats this time because of the party’s
pledge to provide free long-term care.

Our survey also reveals a high level of optimism among social
care workers, with 49 per cent believing life would improve for
service users if Labour wins a second term and far fewer – 31 per
cent – forecasting things would stay the same. Just 7 per cent
believe things would get worse.

The majority of our sample believes that giving Labour another
term in office would improve the party’s commitment to social

And despite worries over the alleged apathy of the electorate,
higher numbers of social care staff are planning to vote this time
round. A total of 13 per cent did not bother last time but only 7
per cent said they will not be filling in their ballot paper on 7

Labour’s record

Our survey reveals that social care workers are fairly
unimpressed with New Labour’s first term.

Half of them believe that the effect on social care of the last
Labour government has been neither better nor worse than under the
Conservatives. Nine per cent of Labour-voting social workers
believe that things are worse than under the Conservatives.

Social care staff working with disabled people and those working
with people with learning difficulties are most critical of
Labour’s first term. Those working with older people are not far
behind, with just over one in 10 saying things are worse than under
the Conservatives.

However the majority, 40 per cent of the total sample, believe
Labour has made improvements to social care since 1997. Those most
pleased with the current administration work with children and
families, people with mental health problems, or people with
learning difficulties.

The majority of those surveyed said Quality Protects was
Labour’s best social care policy. Unsurprisingly, the majority of
those praising Quality Protects work with children and families and
the majority of those backing care trusts work with older people or
people with mental health problems.

Social care workers are divided as to whether or not Labour has
provided more resources. Two out of five of our sample say they
have seen no more money from the government and almost a quarter
report they have fewer resources than under the Conservatives.
However one third did see an increase.

But more importantly, just under one third of our sample believe
the current government has made it harder to perform daily tasks to
the best of their ability. They blame fewer resources but not
solely – increased paperwork, understaffing, and less time with
clients are also cited. Only 16 per cent say the government has
made it easier to perform well with just over half reporting no

Service users
Social care workers are divided on whether the current
Labour government has improved the circumstances of service users:
43 report no change while 42 per cent say things have improved over
the past four years. But 11 per cent said they have worsened,
including 6 per cent of those voting Labour.

However, overall social care staff are optimistic – 49 per cent
believe life would improve for service users if Labour gets in
again and far fewer (31 per cent) forecast things would stay the

When asked about the future for services users if the
Conservatives won power, only 4 per cent of our sample thought they
would get better; half thought they would worsen; and 27 per cent
said they would remain the same.

Our respondents were also divided as to whether the current
government’s policy of joined-up government had been successful in
the field of social policy, with 44 per cent saying it had and 39
per cent disagreeing.

A few members of our sample survey, on average about 7 per cent,
felt Labour would worsen the lives of social care clients and this
percentage rose to 13 and 11 respectively for asylum seekers and
homeless people. More than one in 10 also said Labour in power
would mean a worsening in the lives of young offenders, reflecting
their concerns about the government’s tough line on youth

More than one in ten of our sample also believe people with
mental health problems will fare worse if, as expected, Labour win
a second term, again reflecting their concern about new plans for
compulsory treatment.

The low numbers of our sample who fear things will worsen for
social care clients must be set against the backdrop of the vast
majority, on average just under half the total sample, who believe
things would improve.

On average just under half of our sample believe life for social
care clients would worsen if the Conservatives came into power,
particularly for asylum seekers, people living in poverty, and
homeless people.

However in most client groups, about one third reckon there
would be no change if the Conservatives beat all the odds and took

The future
Social services departments are on their way out,
according to our survey of workers. Just under three quarters of
respondents believe departments will not exist in their present
form in five years time if Labour forms the next government. Only a
slightly higher number foresee the end of departments under a
Conservative administration. And one in five believe the
Conservative would retain traditional social services

When compared with a similar survey taken just before the 1997
election, the survey results reveal that the percentage of
Labour-voting social care staff who believe traditional social
services departments would still exist within five years has
fallen. In 1997, just under half sounded the death knell.

If New Labour wins a second term, almost a quarter of our sample
said they would be more likely to stay in a social care career but
the majority – 70 per cent – said it made little or no difference
to their choice. But if the Conservatives gained power, almost one
quarter would be more likely to leave.

Survey Sample

– A total of 200 social care staff.

– 136 work for local authorities; 64 work for voluntary

– The largest group are based in London or the south (88); the
next largest are employed in the Midlands/East Anglia/Wales (58)
and the rest (54) in the north of England or Scotland.

– The majority of the sample work with children and families
(75); then people with mental health problems (45; older people
(40); people with learning difficulties (39) and people with
physical disabilities (31). (The total is more than the base of 200
as some of the sample work with more than one client group.)

The survey was conducted by NSM Research.

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